17th Mar 2018

Poland fears mass exodus of Ukraine refugees

  • The 43-year old Duda (r) beat former president Bronislaw Komorowski (l) in May elections (Photo: senat.rp)

The EU should factor in a potential mass-exodus of Ukrainians to Poland in its migration policy, Polish president Andrzej Duda has said.

Speaking to German tabloid Bild, on the eve of his first state visit to Berlin on Friday (28 August), he noted that: “Poland, as an EU member, wants to show solidarity, but in terms of refugees, we have a special problem because of the conflict in Ukraine”.

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“When the conflict escalates again, a lot more people will come to us. From the signals we’re already getting, several hundred thousand Ukrainians want to escape to us. Other European countries should take this into account when we talk about readiness to offer help”.

With Germany expecting 800,000 asylum applications this year, by far the highest number of any EU state, Duda added: “We understand this problem's very important to German people”.

He said Polish society is ready to welcome refugees, because Poles have a history of receiving help from abroad.

“There were times when many Poles were forced to leave their country and became refugees. And we haven’t forgotten the rescue packages the Germans sent us in the 1980s”.

He also said that, while the Polish economy is growing, unemployment remains high and too many Poles are leaving the country to work in other EU states.

“It’s an important task of Polish politics to create the conditions that they return home”, he added.

Poland, last year, received 2,318 asylum applications from Ukraine, compared to 46 in 2013. It also issued 830,553 short-term visas for Ukrainian border traders and migrant workers, compared to 720,125 the year before.

The war in Ukraine has so far created 600,000 refugees, the UN says, many of whom have fled to Russia.

Poland has also volunteered to take in 1,100 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over the next two years under an EU scheme, as well as 900 UN-registered refugees.

But the European Commission had asked it to take in 3,621 people in total.

Duda noted that, despite the so-called Minsk ceasefire accord on Ukraine, “people are dying every day. The agreed ceasefire is not being complied with”.

He praised German chancellor Angela Merkel for what he called her “very firm attitude toward Russia. I wish all of Europe would support this determination”.

But he believes the crisis won’t end quickly and said the EU should maintain economic sanctions on Russia until the full status quo ante, including the return of Crimea to Ukraine, is restored.

He also said Nato should have a “stronger presence” in Poland, referring to Polish appeals for Nato to create permanent new bases on its territory.

He noted that Poland supports Ukraine’s EU and Nato entry down the line. But he said “this isn’t on the agenda at the moment. First, we need a lasting peace”.

With Duda hailing from the right-wing Law and Justice opposition party in Poland, which, in its last time in power, had prickly relations with Germany, the new president, elected in May, tried to dispel concerns on bilateral relations.

He said the past feud with Berlin was “hyped” by media.

“Relations between Warsaw and Berlin were always significantly better than their reputation", he noted.

“The Germans are our largest and most important neighbours, economically and politically. Our relationship is very good, and I would like to contribute to it”.

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